QZ qz thoughts
a blog from Eli the Bearded

Iconic Identity

Discourse is software for Internet forums (or fora if you prefer). I joined the instance for discussing Discourse itself, meta.discourse.org very shortly after it first opened up. Up until then, I had never seen a forum I really wanted to participate in. The software just sucked.

(I still feel that way, and am frustrated when I feel forced to use say phpbb. That is the forum for say, Andor's Trail, which I mentioned a couple of weeks ago. Phpbb is particularly annoying in that there is apparently a default block on using the search function unless you become a member. Not just advanced search mind you, any search. It feels stingy. And the UI that encourages long signatures on every post means that an external search will have more chaff to hunt through to find the wheat.)

So anyway, I'm a fan of Discourse as forum software, and have followed Meta for Discourse in various degrees of focused or unfocused for years. I'm back into a bit more focusing on it now because of a project I'm working on. If you have paid any attention to it, which you might not have, you know that it is basically the baby of Jeff "Coding Horror" Atwood.

He explains his choice of nym here: On the Meaning of "Coding Horror", a blog post from a bit over a decade ago. He uses the icon from that book as his user icon anywhere that he uses that username.

About two weeks ago someone at $WORK stole that hair-up-in-the-air face for his Slack icon. The new use of the icon has been jarring, to say the least. I see the face and I think of Jeff Atwood and then why is he here, this isn't Discourse and then see the name doesn't match. It's almost surprising how much that face is Jeff "Coding Horror" Atwood to me. It's not just a random icon, it's his icon.

I suppose that's what comes of using the same picture so consistently. I tried that for a while, with a photo of a toy car positioned on top of a nickel coin (for scale), but eventually decided to stop and use different icons in different contexts.

For one thing, I took that photo on an ancient camera that produced 640x480 photos and no longer have the toy to rephotograph it. That's starting to bump into smaller than recomended file sizes for personal icons on some sites now. 500x500 for example.

For another, there are contexts in which an icon that looks like me, even if it isn't a photo of me, are much more useful. For example the $WORK Slack. I use a photo of a painting of someone who looks vaguely like me, stocky with a long red beard. It's as accurate as some of the sketches I've seen people use.

And lastly, I've come to the conclusion that by using different user names and iconography, I can further my goal of making it more difficult for data miners to match my accounts across the Internet. (Not that I expect it to work perfectly, but I don't want to make it easy either.)